On Travel with Thomas Pheasant: Four Days in Venice with a Camera and a Designer’s Eye

Thomas Pheasant in VeniceAs well traveled as I am, I must also admit that I enjoy being a tourist.  I’m not sure why that’s become a negative term — what is wrong with exploring all the iconic landmarks and pulling out a camera?   After many years of dividing my time between Washington and Paris, I have let go the unnecessary insecurities of pulling out a map or asking directions in a language I do not pretend to have mastered.   I am a tourist, a guest far from home, yearning to be inspired… how lucky!

Over the past ten years, my exposure to Paris and French style has given me an endless stream of inspiration.  But I have also come to love and appreciate the relaxed beauty of the Italian culture: the heartwarming cuisine, the opened arms of the Italian people and the romance of cityscapes worn by centuries of living. In October my partner, Juan Carlos, and I had the pleasure of spending four perfect days in Venice.

As we approached the city by water taxi, it was sparkling under the bright sun.

This was my first trip to this magical city; although I had planned to go several times over the years, something always got in the way and my plans were put on hold.  This time I was determined to explore this city that had already been a distant source of inspiration.  Through books, paintings, photographs and movies I had formed what I thought was a clear vision of this floating city with its gondolas and rose-colored sunsets. But, nothing had prepared me for the unique beauty that enveloped me each day as I walked this maze of streets and bridges that have remained without change for centuries.

Hotel Danieli

Approaching the historic Hotel Danieli for our first stay in Venice.

My ability to observe has become an essential tool in finding inspiration for my interiors and furniture designs.  Due to a relentless work schedule, I have learned to be fast in capturing moments or images that I can use for inspiration.  Clients and friends have often commented on my silence as we walk streets lined with antique shops and galleries. Even my partner of 27 years gets a little frustrated by my silence in hopes that I will express my thoughts as we explore city streets searching for new discoveries.  It’s not that I don’t like to talk — I’m just taking in everything in hopes of discovery.  It could be finding a piece of furniture to jump start a project, spotting an architectural detail that inspires a new cabinet idea, or admiring a piece of jewelry that launches a mirror design.  I thought it would be revealing to share some of my photos, and perhaps in doing so, I will share my way of finding inspiration.

Every day began with a fabulous breakfast in our room overlooking the waters of the Bacino San Marco. We left the room each morning without a predetermined list of places to see. We just walked and took it all in.

Sunrise view of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

An amazing sunrise view of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore from the window of our room at the Danieli. The view was so postcard perfect, it was like waking up on a movie set each morning.

First, let me say that all those paintings of Venice depicting emerald water running through glistening streets illuminated by Disney-like sunsets are true. Every day I was stunned by the color and the light. We were also very fortunate to have experienced beautiful sun-filled October days without the burden of summer heat and summer crowds.

Gondola in Venice

The light seems to propel this gondola through the canal.

Simple, elegant doorway
An elegant doorway…

With all the grand architecture and big visual moments you discover as you walk the streets of Venice, I was captured by the smaller moments: the simplicity of a weathered door set inside a classically detailed façade, striking color combinations and patinas that only time can create, the simplicity and elegance of a small window that without any decoration straddles the entrance to a grand palazzo.

Elegant doorway

...and another. Both a study of simplicity.

Loggias with columns repeating under arched openings, vaulted ceilings, bold flooring patterns, stucco walls in sun bleached colors set against carved marble details were calling to me like the bells of the Campanile in the Piazza San Marco.

Arched passages

Beautiful arched passages with bold floor patterns line the perimeter of the Doge's Palace.

Mosaics in the Basilica San Marco

Radiant mosaics patterns decorate the floor of the Basilica San Marco.

Time-worn carved walls

I was taken by the texture and color of walls and doors that only time can create.

The Palazzos that line the canals show a history of architecture that spreads through centuries. A fusion of the Byzantine world, the Gothic, the Classical Renaissance and the Italian Baroque create a uniquely unmistakable cityscape.

Sunset over the canals of Venice

Every evening a sunset lingered over the city like the glow from a giant lantern.

Juan Carlos Rincones in Venice

Juan Carlos takes in a moment of the Venetian light.

Andrea Palladio’s beautiful Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a serene retreat. This church turns out to be one of the final projects of a master architect whose talent for combining simplicity, grace and strength is worth study and reflection. Inside this church the subtle color combinations of stone and plaster have taken on a platinum hue that I hope to capture in a future project.

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

The brilliant exterior façade of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Inside San Giorgio Maggiore

Interior detail from inside San Giorgio Maggiore. Unadorned by colorful decoration the simplicity of its neutral tones of platinum and ivory bring focus to the strength of the architecture.

Colonnades in Venice

Colonnades provide a strong architectural signature throughout Venice.

Churches rising in Venice
Churches rise with imposing force even along the most humble of streets.

After four inspiring days in this beautiful city, arched colonnades, rich patinas and shimmering light pushing my creative buttons, I headed back to our apartment in Paris to finish the designs for my new Baker collection being introduced this coming Spring 2012.

Now a few weeks later, back in my Washington studio, as I take a final look at my designs, I am excited to realize those beautiful four days in Venice have subtly worked their way into my new collection.

Juan Carlos stops for a biscotti

Juan stops for a last biscotti before we take the water taxi back to the airport

The world offers us all so much inspiration, all you have to do is go, walk, observe with an open mind — and stop every now and then for a biscotti!

World-renowned designer Thomas Pheasant is currently working on the final touches for his new Baker collection to be launched in spring 2012.  View the existing designs from The Thomas Pheasant Collection on our website.

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6 Responses to On Travel with Thomas Pheasant: Four Days in Venice with a Camera and a Designer’s Eye

  1. Lawrence(Lorenzo)Paolantonio says:

    If Thomas Pheasant were to create a book about Venice, I would be first in line for a copy. His expert photography, writing skills, and attention to detail, drew me into his recent visit as it transported me back to my long-ago visit. Looking forward to the new spring Baker line of furnishings with hints of the Serenissima. Complimenti Tom ! Lorenzo Paolantonio, Bethesda, Md

  2. mike hoffenberger says:

    I loved reading about your visit to wonderful Venice. Your blog brought back so many
    happy memories of my own experience and is a good read for anyone who wants
    that designer insight.
    mike hoffenberger

  3. As a long-time fan of his work, I am equally a fan of the accounts of his travels. Like a master-storyteller, Tom crafts a tale that is poetic in its appreciation for the color and subtle texture of the world around him. His narratives excite the imagination and inspire us to slow down and observe; beauty is everywhere, both near and far from home. Great post!

    • Hi Christine – Glad you enjoyed Tom’s account of Venice! We will have more posts like these in the coming months – make sure to subscribe to our blog to receive an email when we post something new.

  4. Marie HERZOG says:

    merci et bravo ! bravissimo Thomas Pheasant- pour cette évocation de quatre jours parfaits à Venise
    Bravo pour votre texte et vos images
    Grâce à vous, on retrouve et on est touché par l’extrême sophistication comme par la grande simplicité de Venise- le regard passe, s’arrête et se nourrit des proportions des entrées de palais,
    de toutes les nuances de marbre blanc du matin et de toutes les lumières dorées des fins de journée de la Sérénissime.
    Auguri !

    marie herzog

  5. Stephen says:

    What *took* you so long? And only four days? We should talk.

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